Eight myths about Mary, the mother of Jesus

Of all the characters in the Bible, there might be none more consistently misunderstood and misrepresented than Mary, the mother of Jesus. At Sanctuary, we have been preaching a series of messages focused on Mary and her tumultuous journey (you can listen here). Through my research, I have developed a picture of Mary that differs significantly from those we commonly see on Hallmark cards, movies, and tv shows. Therefore, I present eight myths about Mary and their corresponding truths.

1. Myth: Mary looked like this:

For an image of what Mary more likely looked like, read to the bottom of this post.

2. Myth: She was in her mid-20s when she gave birth to Jesus.

Truth: Most young women in that day married in their early to mid teens. Scholars believe Mary was probably about 14 years old when Gabriel visited her, which would likely make her 15 on the first Christmas. (Incidentally, if you have a daughter, how would you respond if she came home pregnant at 14?)

3. Myth: Mary and Joseph were the same age.

Truth: In those days, it was common for men to be 10-15 years older than the women they married. Mary was likely marrying a man nearly twice as old as her. Joseph was probably 25-30 years old when Jesus was born.

4. Myth: Mary was living on her own when Gabriel visited her.

Truth: As a 14-year-old young woman betrothed to be married, Mary would have been living at home in the midst of an extended family. She was finishing her days of apprenticeship to womanhood, being trained by the older women of the household to manage her own household as soon as Joseph came to take her home as his bride.

5. Myth: Mary was white.

Truth: Mary was an olive-skinned, Middle Easterner with dark hair.

6. Myth: Mary was middle class.

Truth: Mary and Joseph were poor. Some 40 days after Jesus was born, they went to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate Jesus to the Lord and make a sacrifice to atone for Mary's sin and restore her ceremonial cleanness after having given birth (Luke 2; Lev 12). People of means sacrificed a one-year-old lamb. If they were too poor, the Law allowed them to sacrifice two birds. This is what Mary and Joseph did (Luke 2:24). That little detail in the narrative tells us a lot about Mary and Joseph's socioeconomic status.

7. Myth: Mary was delicate -- the picture of European femininity.

Truth: Mary was most likely wiry and muscular. She lived a lifestyle of manual labor -- making fires, grounding grain into flour; kneading loaves of bread; caring for goats, cows, and other household animals; weaving; washing; and so on. I picture Mary being able to make quick work of today's 14-year-old girl in a bout of arm wrestling.

8. Myth: Mary was quiet and demure.

Truth: Reading the Magnificat, Mary's song in Luke 1, what we see is a young woman who was oozing revolutionary fervor. She was more likely outspoken than quiet, tough than soft, domineering than retiring. When Jesus was born, Mary was politically opinionated and zealous for God to turn the world upside down through her son.

Truth: Mary may well have looked a bit like this:


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